What will we do when we get there? Anticipating Digital Broadcast Archives

Guest post from Joe Smith, Kim Hammond and George Revill , The Open University

The Earth in Vision project is exploring the potential and significance of digital broadcast archives (DBAs), looking at environment related media as a case study. We are working specifically with fifty hours of BBC broadcast archive of environmental programmes from the late 1950s onwards. In addition to writing new histories of global environmental change with the media ‘written in’ we are also chasing down some important questions of much wider relevance. We want to think through who will use digital broadcast archives (DBAs), how they will want to use them and what tools they will need.

We expect future users to include teachers and learners, film making and media people, IT professionals, academics, museum curators, NGOs and activists and other publics. We are inviting samples of all of these stakeholders to participate in the project. Through tailored workshops we give participants a chance to think through anticipated digital futures and how these are relevant to them personally or professionally; to play with some of the archive content; and to explore and reflect upon their own experiences in terms of how broadcasts have influenced their engagement with or understanding of environmental issues.

It has been an exciting first nine months of this three year project, with i-Docs being one of the most stimulating events the Earth in Vision team have attended. It was great to experience the amazing talent and application of interactive documentary film makers. We appreciated the number and range of i-Doc festival goers who attended our workshop, making clear to us that this community have a strong appetite to work with DBAs. We came away with new ideas about how i-doc makers, film makers and media professionals would want to work with broadcast archive materials, and their user needs and tools. Feedback suggests that those who attended went away re-thinking how they use/could use DBAs.

What have we learnt so far? That the creative opportunities afforded by digital online broadcast archives are immense, and we are only just beginning to understand some of the potential benefits and hazards ahead. It would be great to see the emerging body of i-docs makers channelled towards showcasing this potential.

One of the clear conclusions from i-Docs as a whole was the need for broadcasters and others to commit funding to interactive documentary.  One first step would be to see broadcasters invest in some imaginative new work with archive content and we believe global environmental change issues offer the perfect arena in which to experiment. We are definitely coming back to the next iDocs, and will have more to share about what we are learning.

Please get in touch if you want to know more about our work, or to tell us what you think about digital broadcast archives. Do also share any items on your wish list in relation to this potent but as yet unformed new media space.

Earth in Vision is an Open University project funded by the AHRC for 3 years from October 2013

Contact details: kim.hammond@open.ac.uk